Heads of state rallied behind the Bush administration's tough stance toward Iraq, stating at a NATO summit that they "deplore" Saddam Hussein's failure to disarm, and threatening "serious consequences" for any continued violations of UN resolutions.
The warning yesterday came as Washington announced it is assembling a broad coalition of up to 50 countries - including NATO members - to assist to varying degrees in an overthrow of Mr. Hussein if, as some senior US leaders expect, he refuses to give up his weapons programs.
The war preparations reflect Washington's conviction that without a clear threat of military force, diplomacy alone will not goad Hussein into action. "The only reason that inspectors are about to go in is because of the possibility of the use of force to disarm," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before a meeting with NATO defense ministers. The tactics bring to mind an Al Capone quote sometimes cited by Mr. Rumsfeld, a longtime Chicago resident: "You get more with a kind word and a gun than you do with a kind word alone."
Planning for a war and its aftermath is under way in "a lot" of capitals in addition to Washington, which is receiving responses daily from around the world to its cabled requests for military and nonmilitary support, Rumsfeld says. Gen. Tommy Franks, the US commander who would lead an Iraq campaign, is working to "knit" the contributions into an effective strategy.
"A large number of countries" are offering concrete support - everything from combat forces that would join a US-led attack, to overflight and basing rights, to security personnel to protect US military bases abroad, to humanitarian workers in a post-Hussein Iraq. In all, there are four or five different "baskets" of nations willing to play varying roles, Rumsfeld said.
British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon revealed Tuesday that he received a formal letter from the United States asking for military assistance in the case of a conflict. Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, and Kuwait are just a few of the countries whose facilities and airspace would be central.
The NATO statement, by 19 heads of state, marked a victory for President Bush, who made Iraq a central topic at the summit. He urged the world to join the US in ensuring that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are eliminated - voluntarily or by force.
Turkey, whose bases and airfields would greatly facilitate a US military campaign, received high priority on Mr. Bush's agenda. "We are going to be working very closely with our Turkish friend and ally in the period ahead," said one senior administration official. "It's a terribly important relationship for the United States."
In bilateral talks Tuesday, Bush reassured Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer that the US places "great importance" on preserving Iraq's territorial integrity in the case of war, according to a Turkish official present. Turkey is concerned that an uprising among ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq could cause unrest among Turkey's own Kurdish population.
While stressing that peace should be given a chance, Mr. Sezer said that if the "worst happened," Turkey would decide how best to make "a contribution" to regional stability, according to Tacan Ildem, chief foreign-policy adviser to the Turkish president, who attended the session. Turkey and the US are actively engaged in military consultations and have a "strategic partnership," he said.
US and Turkish officials are also reportedly discussing increased US economic aid for Turkey, which underwent a severe economic downturn in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. US officials say aid talks are ongoing, and they also argue that Turkey would benefit substantially from an Iraq free from UN sanctions. "From the president's point of view, Turkey will benefit tremendously from an Iraq that is not under sanctions. The fact of the matter is that Turkey and Iraq can and should be large trading partners," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer told the Monitor.
As Washington works to forge a "coalition of the willing," some senior Bush administration officials are voicing frustration over what has been overly passive UN stance on the Baghdad regime.
Indeed, in an extraordinary comparison this week, Rumsfeld likened the UN's years of inaction on Iraq to the foot-dragging and evasion of the Iraqi leader himself. "The United Nations sat there for years with 16 resolutions being violated," he said. "Just as we've seen a pattern of behavior on the part of Saddam Hussein, we've also seen a pattern of behavior on the part of the United Nations, and only time will tell what it, that is to say, what the membership will conclude."
Rumsfeld also asserted that the latest UN Security Council resolution (1441) on disarming Iraq, like other resolutions, was deliberately designed to be ambiguous in order to win votes, and is therefore open to interpretation by different countries.
Washington, for example, publicly disagreed this week with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan over whether Iraqi groundfire against US and British jets patrolling the southern and northern no-fly zones is a "material breach" of UN resolutions.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is laying down its own criteria for determining whether Hussein is complying with the resolution. In watching for a "pattern of behavior," Washington suggests that in the absence of a gross violation by Hussein, a series of smaller actions - including the no-fly zone strikes - would be enough to trigger a US campaign.